October 10, 2013

A Good Man

I lost a dear friend this week.

My former art director, Tye Gregg, led the life I want to lead. He was a good man to his family, and he was a good boss to his employees. He was very good to me. He fought for me, shielded me, gave me every tool I needed (and a bottle of Valpolicella every Christmas), hand-picked me without a resume or an interview. We shared an affinity for the nature outside our windows, for birds, for optimal light conditions. For travel, weekends, the fall and time spent away. We both held dear a common belief that the most important time was time spent outside the office.

I worked hard for him, under the guise of working hard for myself and my betterment as a designer. I worked for him – and with him – for a dozen years. Formative years, as a hot-headed 23-year-old fresh from college, to an equally headstrong thirty-something who can still bristle when told what to do (stubborn, I think, appeared in every performance evaluation he'd ever given me).

But I became stronger as a designer each year, and Tye was very much the reason why. He held the reigns loose, let me grow up, stumble, figure things out, watching as I increasingly took on larger challenges until eventually we developed a kind of quiet rapport and trust that only comes after years spent together. 

I sometimes wonder whether I effectively returned the many favours he'd given me, that I took advantage of his gentle nature and hands-off approach by so often toiling quietly at my desk, producing work with little input. He'd listen – my God, he'd listen – as I sussed out my mental blocks and creative challenges while seldom reaching out for his take. I'm 38 years old, realizing I had precisely the mentor I needed – and still need – while so rarely seizing the opportunity. This remains one of my biggest professional regrets.

After his retirement, we didn't stay in touch like I sorely wish we had now. We met on a couple of occasions, and they were fun times. I so very much wish that Tye could have met my daughter Scout, that he knew I hope to inspire her with many of the qualities I observed in him. He left a message not long after her birth, containing the last words I received from him:

Just got back from Waikiki to find out about the the great big birth of your daughter. Congratulations to you and Kerry! What an amazing event this is. I hope all goes really well as a new threesome and she will fly like a bird into the future. She certainly has massively creative parents to coach her beginnings. Wow! Poppa Jeope.

September 18, 2013

282: The Cover Story

The organization that I work for, Ducks Unlimited Canada, is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year and I was tasked with the design of a special-edition issue of its members' magazine, Conservator. This in itself was not a surprise; I've handled design of sixty issues of the publication in English and French over the past 14 years. But this edition afforded me to expand beyond its typical 30-40-page length and really establish a solid visual theme and aesthetic over a publication double its normal size. Again, not the biggest whoop in design circles – but a wonderful opportunity for me. It was a great edition to be a part of.

The issue's theme – Our Bold Present, Our Promising Future – required some thought in particular, for a cover concept. Vibrant, busy, collage-based ideas were bandied about, but I was of the mindset from the get-go that the theme should be represented by a single, strong image that could cover several bases: present/future, youth/the next generation, the outdoors, recreation, conservation and of course, ducks and waterfowl. And be iconically Canadian.

(Iconically… is that a word? I'm checking. Yes, I think so. Kind of. Iconically.)

I knew of a candidate image almost immediately, that I took of Kerry's nephew Duncan near his cottage at Lake Athapapuskow, Manitoba, in 2011. He was fishing from a neighbour's dock with his dog on a summer evening at sunset, and I came along to watch and take photos. It was a beautiful time.

For the magazine cover, the image underwent only minor tweaking: cropping, some cloud removal and extension of the sky tones to enable placement of the headline copy and masthead, dodging/burning and most noticeably, the digital addition of a small, silhouetted flock of ducks. I did not reveal that I had taken the photo until after production, lest it sway opinions during the magazine's various stages of editing and approvals. The headline typeface is Gibson Bold.

July 24, 2013

What Am I Doing?

When Scout is ornery, I sometimes consider things I no longer do since she arrived. Outside of a single, late-night rerun of 30 Rock, I haven't watched television in two months. I just finished reading a book – David Sedaris' Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls – for the first time since she was born. I rarely ride my bike, except to reach my carpool. I've seen one movie in the theatre, a Stars-and-Strollers matinĂ©e screening of Mud (a very fine film), in which I rocked Scout in her car-seat with my foot. I missed the Fringe Festival. I missed spring break-up on the lake. I stopped freelancing. I've been out with Kerry, away from Scout, on only two occasions since February: once to walk to the end of the pier and back at the lake on Canada Day weekend, once for a one-hour dinner at a restaurant near our house. I don't draw, don't eat cereal and – evidently – no longer blog. 

So, what do I do?

I hold Scout in the kitchen and let her grasp at the photo of her smiling cousin on the fridge. I om-nom-nom her belly, and she squeals and pulls my hair. I carry her in the Ergo on evening walks in the neighbourhood, patting her bum and cradling her head even though she can support it now with ease. I sit on the floor and watch her jolly-jump at eye level – a lot. I carry her to the porch and let her swat at the wind chimes, and then to the backyard to pull a leaf from our maple tree. I show her the chimney swifts that chatter at dusk. I tell her squirrels are monkeys, in hopes that one day she'll think there are monkeys in the city. I gnash my teeth as she learns to put herself to sleep, screaming in her crib at bedtime. I take her picture, though more and more I opt for direct observation. I look at her hands. I look at the chub on her arms. I look at the back of her head where hair is filling back in. When she smiles wide, I look at her two teeth. 

I hoist her high in the air. When she giggles, I repeat what makes her giggle until she yawns with boredom.

June 01, 2013

281: Aboo

Scout broke our brains today. It's not been the best spring outside this year, and I think she senses it – especially after we'd made all manner of wild promises and vivid descriptions of this thing called summer. Tonight she finally called bullshit and let us have it – and with cold, wind and rain hemming us in from outside, we had no choice but to cower in the attic on our Pilates ball as she howled.

It's my duty to get Scout to sleep for the night; it's the closest thing I have to a magic touch. First Kerry induces her into a 'milk coma', then I wrap Scout in her pod (a nice way to describe what is essentially a straight-jacket). Tonight the coma did not happen, and I set to the laborious procedure from scratch, of getting her from crankypants to conked. She wailed, flailed, and then – as if declaring truce – she halted her fit, gazed at me and mewed aboo. She relaxed, and was out cold a few minutes later.

Scout's aboo is among her cutest accomplishments in life. It happens every now and then, often while being held. I immortalized it in ink, in this doodle I created for Kerry's Mothers Day card – the only bout of drawing I've managed in the 105 days since she's arrived on the scene.

May 06, 2013

280: Poster Retread Capital Of The World

poster – PechaKucha Night in Winnipeg, Vol. 14
I was hesitant about popping the poster for PechaKucha Night in Winnipeg, Volume 14 here. A vast majority of the design gruntwork had been completed with the collateral put out for Vol. 13 back in March (and discussed previously, here). And the remainder of this year's quartet of posters will be riffs on that initial piece, with some shifts in colour scheme and seasonal touch-ups. To wit, this variation here – no longer featuring the archival alley-way drawings of Volume 13; instead, swapped with a simple Slurpee.

Anyone in Winnipeg knows why there's a Slurpee on this poster. Our city's been dubbed the Slurpee Capital of the Universe for 3,553 consecutive years, and it's become an odd and self-proclaimed symbol of this place. I don't condone this distinction, but ironically, it was during my salad days that I helped play a part. As a teenager I could be seen toting/toking a Slurpee on many occasions. My mix of choice was two parts Dr Pepper, one part cream soda – but since a 7-Eleven in somewhat-nearby River Heights was the only outlet's Slurpee fountain where I could source Dr Pepper, Coca-Cola was often substituted. More often than not, my Slurpee was paired with a Maximiumm brownie – sometimes, two – which I'm not sure are still available.

I don't partake in the Slurpee anymore. Don't partake in 7-Eleven much, period. The place was well-suited to my adolescence, be it for Slurpees, brownies, Old Dutch ripple chips and dill-pickle dip, Cokes upon Cokes upon Cokes, Big Bite hotdogs or fifteen-dollar 7-Eleven fan zone nosebleed section Jets tickets (my first-ever game: the infamous 1990 "Death By Popcorn" playoff date when the Jets had the Cup-champion Oilers by the throat). It was frequently the launching pad for late-night car trips, VHS movie marathons and high school lunchtime junk food runs.

Now – as I sit on my porch with a craft beer in my hand, munching on organic, fair-trade chocolate corn chips or om-nom-nomming on a walnut brownie from the nearby hippie bakery – the distinction of my town as Slurpee Capital of the World disgusts me. Infact, these fat, grubby teenagers and their Slurpee-sticky hands need to get off my lawn.

In a nutshell, that's why I plopped a Slurpee on the next run of PechaKucha Night posters. Well, there's that, but it's also finally warm out – and I had just a whiff of a hint of a glimmer of a craving for one.


PechaKucha Night in Winnipeg, Volume 14 takes place on Thursday, May 16, at the Park Theatre. Doors open at 7:30, first presenter hits the stage at 8:20. And I'll be the emcee. These events are fantastic. Come see why.

April 05, 2013

279: Six (Week) Pack

Scout is six weeks old – zeroing in on seven as I type – and I feel we're only just beginning to learn each other. I know a handful of her likes: bouncing on the pilates ball; being carried up and down, and up and down, staircases; the boob; our stained glass window. But by and large, she is wildly unpredictable. She sleeps sound, unless she doesn't sleep sound. Feeds well, unless she doesn't. She's a baby (though she already owns more pairs of shoes than her daddy). She's immensely kissable, holdable, ticklable and omnomnom-able.

And as expected, Scout has been a blessing for my tired and underused (of late) camera. So in honour of her six-week milestone, I present a sextet of photos that haven't yet seen the light of day elsewhere. day one View larger.

flyaway View larger.

not ready for prime-time View larger.

stargazer View larger.

quiet on the set View larger.

kiss with a fist View larger.

Bonus! Watch in shock, as Kerry gets beaten up by a flyweight.

March 08, 2013

278: Belly, Up

A Photoshop experiment resulting from a series of belly-shots taken of Kerry during her pregnancy, beginning at week 16 in September and continuing through to the bitter/sweet end. Photographed entirely in our living room using natural light (sometimes scarce in the dead of winter), with the exception of week 32, which was taken in Fernie. Shots from week 33 were accidentally deleted.

Use the scroll-bar at the base of the image to view the whole series.

March 05, 2013

Scout Sparrow Wolfe

I head back to work tomorrow, and I am collecting myself – and some thoughts. I've had two wonderful, trying, quiet, raucous, soothing and brain-breaking weeks at home with Kerry and my daughter Scout. My daughter Scout. Mine. Ours.

Scout arrived to the world with swiftness and surprise, on February 16 at 9:56 p.m. (only six hours previous we were going about a very normal Saturday, checking thrift stores for baby goods and mulling our choices of boys' names), born so quick the doctor-on-call raced up the stairwell, rather than risk the elevator, to arrive in time to collect her.

Her name: Scout Sparrow. Scout, after the inimitable and pugnacious protagonist Jean-Louise "Scout" Finch from Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird (and not, as the hospital night nurse wondered, Demi Moore's daughter). A literary reference, for Kerry, and a sharp, strong name for a girl we wish nothing more than to grow up and model after young Jean-Louise. Smart, curious, and brave.

Sparrow, my contribution – put a bird on it. The name selected chiefly for the very aesthetics of the word itself, but also after the large family of songbirds of the family Emberizidae – small, sweet-singing, but not-too-showy, denizens of almost every habitat in the world. (Deviating from birding purists, I also consider the common house sparrow who, while a pest species and not a true sparrow, is one of few species who cheerfully throw their sound into even the deepest urban landscape. And also smart, curious and brave.)

Scout, so far, has blue eyes. This may change, though there is a healthy streak of blue running through the eyes of both our families. She was born 19 inches long and six pounds, 11 ounces (3,055 grams), and following discharge from the hospital regained her birth weight with a quickness. In her two weeks she has found her lungs like a boss, showcases the startle reflex of an alley-cat, and developed the ability to stare inquisitively – and directly through me – as we lay side-by-side on the bed during morning bouts of playtime.

I hum a lot to her, since I don't know the lyrics of many songs. I do sing though, but startled myself today realizing the songs I sing are quite dark. The Beatles' Maxwell's Silver Hammer (triple murder) and Rocky Raccoon (gun violence), Josh Ritter's Folk Bloodbath (murder) and David Bowie's Space Oddity (floating in a tin can). I'll need to keep tabs on that. The other day we watched Raising Arizona together – her first movie. Trying hard to give to her an appreciation of the finer things in life.

Scout is a Pisces Aquarius, born in the Year of the Snake. I haven't looked into what this means. She shares a birthday with Ice-T, actor Pete Postlethwaite, author Richard Ford and dear leader Kim Jong Il.

February 25, 2013

277: Girl, Scout

Scout Sparrow Wolfe
Scout Sparrow Wolfe. Born Saturday February 16, 2013 at 9:56 in the evening.

There are no words. Yet.

February 09, 2013

276: One Last Score

poster - PechaKucha Night in Winnipeg, Vol. 13 
In the midst of my departure from duties with the GDC (see previous post), I volunteered to craft the poster concept for the local chapter's next installment of PechaKucha Night in Winnipeg, an event I have come to know and love – and recruit for, and shoot, and record, and speak at, and MC – since its inception three years ago. Big shoes to fill – last year's quartet of PKN event posters were handled more than adeptly by Kevin Guenther.

When recruiting speakers for PKN events, a broad net is cast. If you're any combination of a) creative and b) passionate, I guarantee you'd do just fine hitting the stage (hit me up if you're interested; we're always on the lookout). As their poster designer, I considered visual connections between Winnipeg and the greater, global PechaKucha 'movement'. We're a city hundreds of kilometres and hours away from the next city and as such we have a unique ability to entertain ourselves, and thrive at doing it. Winnipeg is diverse yet tight-knit, and with winters as long and dark as they are, creative up the wazoo. We take the lemons we're given and make high holy lemonade. This trait has presented itself up on stage, again and again, at each of the dozen PKN events to date.

So, what did I do? I did what I love most in design: mix texture and type.

I'm a texture nut. This background texture is made with help from a 1966 document The Metropolitan Development Plan, by the Winnipeg Planning Division. It's a compilation of four images showing the hypothetical redesign of a back alley (clockwise from top left: a typical downtown lane; lighting is introduced and clutter removed;
conversion to an enclosed pedestrian mall; conversion to pedestrian use). Alleys are quintessential Winnipeg, and I like to think this shows the creativity-is-in-everything motto that PKN abides by.

Rolling almost exclusively with a typographic solution, I decided to play with the forms of the words involved themselves – Winnipeg, Pecha, Kucha – all comprised of interesting characters, and all fun to dicker around with (like the rare situations at work with projects pertaining to Quebec – do you have any idea how much fun it is to get to work with an uppercase Q?). The typeface used is Intro; you can get it here.

February 01, 2013

Exit: Flush Right

096 \\ 11-05-10 \\ mild-mannered designer by day
When I started my job, it came with a perk of membership with the Society of Graphic Designers of Canada (GDC). And I promptly sat on it. It was 1999 and I was still a kid, excited about the work and looking to ditch my festering apartment fit for a festering college student. I was plunked in a position working largely in publication design, my first (and still first) love in the graphic design field. I was making money, and happy – and everything else seemed secondary.

That lasted more than a few years, until seemingly one day I glanced up from my work, looked around and realized the next practicing designer outside of the office was some 40-odd kilometres away. It was the fall of 2006 and as if on cue, I received a message from a friend:

"I'm contacting you wearing my GDC hat. Our communications chair is stepping down this year and I am looking for someone to take over for her. I think that you would be a great candidate. You're very organized and extremely articulate."

It was a nice buttering. I hopped aboard on the cusp of the GDC's 50th anniversary and participated in the local chapter's efforts to mark the occasion (documented here). I saw a well-oiled volunteering machine in action.

The work was decidedly low-tech for the first couple of years. I composed regular text-based e-blasts to chapter membership, and meticulously wrote and designed local newsletters (like this one, and this one) before a smooth and time-saving online function was constructed. I'd lost count, but it would be fair to estimate that I shuttled out roughly 200 pieces of communication over the last six and a half years.

The people I met and volunteered with on the board are fantastic, and deserve high praise for their time and effort put into making the chapter and the GDC stand tall and be noticed. While I saw my role early on as an opportunity to help get my name known in the local industry, it did not take long to realize the real benefit of creating relationships and working alongside like-minded folks. I started to see the bigger picture. I made friends and acquaintances. I was brave enough to hit the stage. I even began to stump for the cause.

A few weeks ago, I was the 'featured designer' and my portfolio was profiled as part of the GDC's national e-news sent to GDC members across the country. I summed things up thusly:

"I’m a member of the GDC because – to be absolutely honest – I inherited a membership. It was a perk of the position I acquired a number of years ago, but there has since become so much more to this story. I especially realized its value when I signed on as part of the local chapter board and began to get my feet wet with the larger design community. I value the GDC’s stature in the business, I value its stand for everything that makes this line of work cherished and satisfying, and I value its stance against practices that threaten to erode what we all work and strive for."

Earlier this week, I resigned my post as communications chair at the chapter's yearly Members' Meeting (a term we copped to avoid using AGM, a touch-of-death acronym if there ever was one). Primarily as part of an effort to declutter my life before our impending and/or bouncing baby, but also because these roles require new blood every now and again. The decision was bittersweet, but also a nice, tight cap on one of the best decisions of my professional life. It's a rewarding experience, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

January 07, 2013

275: It's Oh So Quiet

The new year is here. Our year. The Big Year. This is how we rang it in (above), far away, deep in snowy mountains with family, while also quietly celebrating our own fifth wedding anniversary. Snowshoeing about the puff and fluff in the woodsy park down the way from our rented chalet, it was hard not to make calm-before-the-storm analogies with our impending kiddo set to arrive in the picture. 

But the snow, it just made the place so absolutely silent. I'd never heard anything quite like the nothing-at-all heard during our multitude of breaks took while tromping in the forest. Breaks, not from pregnancy-induced exhaustion – not in the least – but from the need to halt and take it in, again and again. And again, I'm not gonna fall prey to any taunts of enjoy it while you still can, because I also plan on fully enjoying our upcoming hullabaloo every bit as much as a walk – or snowshoe – in the woods.